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Hello everyone, Justin Vacula here with another episode in my Stoic Philosophy series.

Today's episode
deals with the topic of desolation.

Visit my website at where you can find links to my social portals including Facebook,
Twitter, and Instagram and see past Stoic Philosophy content on YouTube, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

My Stoic Philosophy series explores the tradition of Stoicism with goals to inform, empower, and help
others benefit from practical wisdom of Ancient Greek, Roman, and modern thinkers including
Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.

For the Stoics, a main focus is pursuing virtue to attain a well-examined life through practical
applications of Philosophy – acting with good character, using reason to form accurate careful
judgments about the world, and achieving contentment. Stoic writers focus on many perennial human
concerns and urge people to take action applying what they learn to everyday life. Self-improvement is
central to Stoic thought – strengthening and improving one's mindset.

The topic of desolation I'm discussing today comes following previous episodes I released on the topics
of suicide and friendship. I spoke of the benefits of friendships, models of friendship worth wanting,
and reasons why we can find the will to live in a world filled with suffering. Speaking of reasons why, I
also finished watching the Netflix series '13 Reasons Why' in which a character commits suicide
partially because of her desolation – she lacked genuine, worthwhile, important connections with others
and lost hope in living. Outside this fictional series, people struggling with depression, suicidal
thoughts, and other mental health challenges may feel desolate and can better cope if they were able to
rid themselves of their desolate feelings and be more socially engaged.

I'll discuss what desolation means; talk about a form of self-reliance worth wanting; explain reasons
why we want help from others; talk of benefits of good relationships with others; explain the
drawbacks of desolation; and argue for courageousness in taking risks to meet and trust other people.

In today's age, much different than Ancient Greece and Rome, we're connected in many ways with
others through social networks, public places, jobs, and other mediums – but how many of these
connections are strong? Might acquaintances transform into trusted friends? Are our social circles
extending beyond like buttons and uploading photos of our experiences? Perhaps we shouldn't use the
word 'friend' so loosely and really consider the quality of our relationships with others, work to
maintain our close connections, and even work to form strong connections. There are many benefits of
quality social interaction even if it comes with some risks and setbacks. Surely not everyone can or will
be a good friend we can trust, but some we can carefully select might.

For an introduction to the topic of desolation, I'd like to visit book 3 chapter 13 of Epictetus' Discourses
titled “What Desolation Means, and the Nature of a Person Who is Desolate.' Epictetus provides a
definition of desolation. He says, “Desolation is the condition of a person who is bereft of help, for a
man is not desolate simply because he is alone, any more than a man in a crowd is secure from
desolation. […] for it is not the sight of a man that removes our desolation, but of a man who can be
trusted, a man of honour and a helpful companion.” Here, we see that desolation deals with the lack of
an important contentedness with others – just being in someone's presence is not enough, but instead
Epictetus seeks more for social interaction to remove oneself from the state of desolation into a state of
belonging, being understood, and being able to rely on others for support.

Along with other Stoic writers, Epictetus sees humans as social beings, he says in this same chapter,
“human beings are social by nature.” We yearn, on Epictetus' view and the view of modern thinkers, to
form connections with others and can benefit from these interactions in being able to share experiences
with others, confiding, talking through our concerns, finding opportunities for growth, having fun, and
learning something new. We should not, though, absolutely depend on others for contentment, Stoic
writers warn, that if we are to be propped up by someone else and not be able to stand on our own,
what shall happen when that someone else is not available for whatever reason perhaps because of
change in life circumstances, death, or other reasons? Epictetus notes, “We ought […] to be capable of
being self-sufficient and bearing our own company […] to talk with ourselves, and not to need others,
nor be at a loss for some way to occupy ourselves.”

A balance, then, moderation, seems to be the proper response, a happy medium between desolation and
absolute reliance on others – we can enjoy the company of others and rely on them to a healthy extent
having our own space, peace of mind, and being able to cope and enjoy life seeing others as an added
bonus rather than being crushed and without direction should others not be with us. We can count on
others for guidance, feedback, and trust, but also have a life of our own rather than being so enmeshed
and reliant on someone else that we have no sense of self or identity.

Epictetus talks about a ruler, Caesar, who provides his people with freedom of travel and a time without
war, but can't protect people from everything. He says, “But can Caesar procure us peace from fever
too? From shipwreck? From fire? From earthquake? From lightening? Nay, even from love? He cannot.
From grief? From envy? No, not from any one of these.” The message here is that self-reliance,
although we can be helped from others, is important for we should work to become more responsible
for our own lives, our contentment, and take action to improve our quality of life rather than absolutely
relying on others.

Seneca, in his letters to his friend Lucillius, also talks about self-sufficiency and humans' social nature
in his letter 'On Philosophy and Friendship.' He writes, “the wise man is self-sufficient. Nevertheless,
he desires friends, neighbors, and associates, no matter how much he is sufficient unto himself.”

In his letter 'On Worldliness and Retirement,' Seneca repeats the theme of humans being social beings
and urges them to be part of society rather than withdrawing from it – even in retirement. He writes, “I
shall not go so far as to expect you to condemn all men as mad and then seek out for yourself a hiding-
place and oblivion.” Here, we see that a state of desolation – having noone who can help us – and in
solitude is not desirable. Perhaps following some bad experiences with others we have accumulated
anxiety and may seek to withdrawal. Maybe we lack the capacity to trust others, unwilling to give
people a chance – pushing others away even if they have good intentions as was the case in the '13
Reasons Why' series. Forcing oneself into desolation, though, comes with great cost especially if we
are lacking the capacity to cope with the struggles of life. Perhaps we can be very careful in who we
select as trusted companions and keep a small social circle of trusted individuals rather than, as Seneca
says, finding a hiding place and oblivion.

Here's more from Seneca on taking risks in establishing and maintaining social connections with
others. He recognizes that we will meet people lacking good character, but this should not lead us to
seclusion or to remain desolate. He writes in his letter 'On Benefits,' “In order to discover one grateful
person, it is worthwhile to make trial of many ungrateful ones. […] For when the outcome of any
undertaking is unsure, you must try again and again, in order to succeed ultimately.”

Seneca warns us not to succumb to despair and drown in anxiety in his letter titled 'On Despising
Death.' Seneca encourages a spirit of courageousness in facing fears, to bear hardships nobly in saying,
“All is well with the commander” even if inevitable external circumstances make life difficult for us to
handle. He writes, “I now warn you not to drown your soul in these petty anxieties of yours; if you do,
the soul will be dulled and will have too little vigour left when the time comes for it to arise.” The cure
for anxiety and way to achieve more contentment, as you might have guessed, is through self-reflection
and study of Philosophy – to better understand ourselves, cope with suffering, and live a fulfilled life.

Should we not seek to improve ourselves and drown our souls as Seneca puts it, our situation can get
progressively worse and we can miss out on the good which life has to bring even if we may not realize
there is hope. We can work to overcome social anxiety and be more open with others; seek and
maintain good social connections; and start to trust others more rather than suffering a self-imposed
state of anxiety as the Stoics would see it. Seneca quotes Epicurus in the same letter who says, “It is
absurd to run towards death because you are tired of life when it is your manner of life that has made
you run towards death.” There's a capacity for hope and self-empowerment in Stoicism – that we can
make changes in our lives through improving our mindset rather than resigning thinking that nothing is
in our control, that we lack the power to live a better life. We can work to combat feelings of desolation
by taking action.

Seneca urges us to take action in his letter titled 'On Reformation' in which he suggests we have as he
writes, “someone whom you may look up to, someone whom you may regard as a witness of your
thoughts. It is, indeed, nobler by far to live as you would live under the eyes of some good man, always
at your side […] solitude prompts us to all kinds of evil.” Here, we see more benefits for social
engagement and even in having a role model. Perhaps we can have more than an just an idea of a role
model - a close confidant who can be a witness we can interact with.

Finally, Seneca lists upsides of social interaction with people he calls 'good men' in his letter 'On the
Fellowship of Wise Men' which can help us understand the importance of relationships with others
hopefully providing a case against desolation – a state in which we wouldn't be able to gain benefits
from others. He writes, “Good men are mutually helpful; for each gives practise to the other's virtues
and thus maintains wisdom at its proper level. Each needs someone with whom he may make
comparisons and investigations.” Seneca also lists other benefits including mutual joy, strength, new
perspectives, knowledge, opportunity, love, advice, problem-solving, and the reduction of one's

To combat feelings of desolation, we can – in thinking about the good that can come from relationships
with others – choose to spend our time wisely in selecting good companions; seek to be part of society
rather than secluding oneself; work on being more self-reliant while also accepting help from others
and engaging in our relationships; and take risks to meet and trust people.

We can also work to gain more insight about ourselves, work to improve our quality of life, learn what
the good life looks like and strive for it through reflecting on the wisdom of others (namely Stoic
Philosophers I would suggest).

Maybe you can meet new people by visiting a local library, group on a website like,
acquiring a new hobby, or even participating in an online community. Consider, too, evaluating who
you may know at the moment, people you might not be close with, but can work on strengthening
relationships. You can start with family members, co-workers, and people you meet on a daily or
weekly basis.

You can work to remove yourself from a state of desolation and move toward a healthier future of
being more connected with others and thus improving your quality of life.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for more content.

Visit my website at where you can find links to my social portals including Facebook,
Twitter, and Instagram and see past Stoic Philosophy content on YouTube, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.

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